HP iPAQ hw6925 Pocket PC Phone Review

by Reads (57,247)

HP’s newest Pocket PC phone, the iPAQ hw6900 series, comes in several different models. Foremost among these are the hw6920 and hw6925. While these are both Cingular-branded models, and locked to that carrier’s network, the difference between them is that the hw6925 has a camera, while the hw6920 does not.

Related models include the hw6945 and hw6940, which are unlocked units usable with any carrier, again with and without the camera. The unit loaned to us for review was the hw6925, including the 1.3 megapixel camera.

 

Design & Construction

Physically almost identical to it’s older sibling, the iPAQ hw6500, the hw6900 features a wide-body design in the style of the BlackBerries and the Nokia E62.

While thinner than one of Palm’s Treos, it’s also considerably wider, making it less than optimal for phone use without a headset.

 

The device is primarily designed around the thumb keyboard. For all the space that HP had to work with, the keys are actually relatively small.

 

The back of the device shows the battery cover, camera lens, and the camera’s "flash," a small LED light which does absolutely nothing to improve the quality of low-light photos. The silver spot to the right of the lens (center) is a mirrored area to allow for self-portraits.

 

Left, iPAQ hw6925. Right, Dell Axim X51v.

The iPAQ is far from what I’d call a small smartphone–despite not having large keyboard buttons, it manages to be one of the larger Pocket PC phones, and much larger than almost any Windows Mobile Smartphone-based device. It doesn’t even save much space when compared to my full-size Dell Axim.

 

The iPAQ’s combination headphone/headset 2.5 mm audio jack is found on the bottom of the device, alongside the docking connector and the reset button.

 

The device’s miniSD expansion slot resides in the bottom right corner of the casing, alongside the keyboard.

 

On the opposite side, in the upper left, are the phone volume slider and the voice recorder button.

 

Hardware

Processor: 416 MHz Intel XScale PXA270
Operating System: Windows Mobile 5.1 (Pocket PC) with AKU 2.3.1
Display: 3.0 inch, 240 x 240 pixel transmissive/reflective LCD
Memory: 64 MB RAM; 128 MB flash (46 MB available)
Size & Weight 4.65 inches long x 2.80 inches wide x 0.71 inches thick; 6.33 ounces
Expansion: Single miniSD slot
Docking: iPAQ standard connector
Communication: Quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE; Bluetooth 1.2; 802.11g Wi-Fi
Audio: 2.5 mm headphone/headset jack; speakerphone; speaker & mouthpiece for phone
Battery: 3.7v, 1200 milliamp-hour Lithium Ion rechargeable/replaceable battery
Input: 40-key thumb keyboard; touchscreen; 5-way navigator
Other: Java/J2ME compatibility; SiRFstar III GPS receiver; 1.3 MP camera

 

Software and Performance

(Correction: In the original text of this review, I accidently stated that the iPaq h6925 has a 312 MHz processor. While the older iPaq hw6500 series does use this processor, the newer hw6900 models have a 416 MHz processor. I regret the error.)

The 416 MHz XScale processor in this iPAQ may be boring, but it’s fairly reliable. Of course, that is in itself a double edged sword, being reliable for being not too fast as well as not too slow. As it is just fast enough to support Voice-over-IP applications such as Skype, it dismays me somewhat that HP didn’t at least allow for a little more performance. While a fast processor can automatically scale back its speed to save battery life, a slow processor can’t scale up its performance when needed.

The hw6925 has a fairly unremarkable array of software, with all the standard Windows Mobile applications, plus a few preloaded "teasers" designed to try and get you to purchase additional services from Cingular, such as their Telenav GPS navigation system.

This iPAQ does come preloaded with a Java runtime application, which is supposed to permit the use of small Java applications like the popular Opera Mini. However, in my tests the program invariably locked up when trying to run Opera Mini. A surprise, given that every other Windows-based JRE seems to have no problem with it.

 

Usage

While a relatively large 3.0 inches, the hw6925’s screen features a marginal 240-by-240-pixel resolution. Surprisingly, it offers acceptably viewable on average, though if you’re accustomed to smaller or higher resolution displays you will definitely find yourself longing for more pixels.

User available storage and memory expansion are on par for most Pocket PC phones, with 46 MB free out of the 128 MB of flash, and a miniSD slot supporting up to 2 GB cards. I can’t say I’m wild about having less than half the storage actually free, but at least it’s comparable to its competitors.

The hw6925 retains the "classic" iPAQ docking connector that’s been the line’s hallmark going back over four years. While it won’t fit existing iPAQ cradles, all your cables and connectors are still useful.

I can’t say I’ve been loving this device’s keyboard. The buttons on it are small and hard to press if you have large fingers. For this reason I found text entry on it to be slower than on other devices, like the HTC Wizard or even Palm’s Treos. It’s possible, certainly, but I would bill the keyboard more as a convenience than as a serious option for hard-core emailers, who would be better off with something sporting more roomy controls.

 

Communication and Connectivity

Throughout my testing, the iPAQ hw6925 produced on average slightly less signal strength than I’d come to expect from other Pocket PC phones. It was still more than adequate to hold signal in most fringe areas, though it lost signal at a few points where competitors had not.

Bluetooth connectivity is adequate for most functions, though frustratingly–and contrary to some listings of the device specs–the iPAQ does not support Bluetooth stereo headphones.

The lack of 3G wireless data is to some degree made up for by the fact that the hw6915 does have built-in Wi-Fi, providing high-speed data connectivity. In addition, Wi-Fi allows you to supplement standard cellular service even if you’re in an area where cell signals don’t reach, by way of wireless Internet and Voice-over-IP. That’s a big plus if you’re one of those unlucky individuals whose service provider doesn’t reach the inside of your home or office.

 

Camera

Like most embedded cameras, the hw6900’s features marginal image quality and abysmal performance in anything less than partial to full sunlight.

Now what really puzzles me about this iPAQ’s camera application is this: it runs in landscape mode. That might make sense on other devices, but the 6915 has a square screen. The displayed preview is equally large whatever way you turn it. So why force users to hold the device in an unusual orientation?

I’ll give HP credit for one very neat feature, though; the camera application is capable of accessing the device’s built-in GPS receiver, and recording the coordinates of where you took a particular photo. This information is then stored in the metadata for the picture, and can be viewed using the iPAQ picture viewer. Want to find that nice brick house in the country again? Take a photo, get the coordinates. Forgot what park that amazing waterfall is at? No problem, the picture will tell you. The GPS coordinates can’t be read by any desktop picture viewer that I regularly use; however, one which supports more customized metadata might be able to find them.

 

GPS

The GPS receiver in the iPAQ has turned into something of a pile of frustration for me. While it’s performance has been solid in those applications that it works with, it’s nearly impossible to get unsupported applications to use it. The device automatically turns off the GPS receiver when not in use, which is good since this saves the battery. The bad part is that the system doesn’t seem inclined to let just any application get at the GPS, and there’s no option to manually activate it. For instance, in my attempts to run an alternative navigation program like Mapopolis on the iPAQ, I was unable to get it to connect to the GPS module, since the iPAQ wouldn’t turn it on. The GPS certainly works, since it achieved a fix in both the camera application and HP’s own navigation program, but it doesn’t want to work anywhere else.

A suspicious mind would suggest that this was done deliberately to force people to use HP and/or Cingular’s premium-fee navigation apps, but I’m not ready to make that statement. Either way, though, it does have that effect, suppressing even technically inclined users from using their own navigation programs.

All that said, the SiRFstar III receiver is a fine piece of hardware, capable of grabbing and holding on to a signal like no other. Even tracking satellites through significant obstructions, it maintained a solid lock, and found up to seven satellites even from indoors.

 

Conclusion

The 6925 is a decent device, but in the amount of time that it’s been delayed, a lot of highly competitive devices have been released. The iPAQ does manage to carve out something of a niche, since it’s the only device available in the US that has a fixed keyboard, Wi-Fi, and a touchscreen all in one, not to mention the convenience of built-in GPS. But some of the implementations decisions, including the difficulty of getting the GPS working with anything other than Cingular or HP’s for-pay navigator applications, and the poor thumb keyboard, drain the usefulness out of the device.

Pros:

  • Ample connectivity
  • Built-in GPS

Cons:

  • Small buttons
  • Relatively large size
  • GPS implementation not friendly
  • Unremarkable specs

Bottom Line:

A useful enough niche product, but with flaws that hold it back from wider success.

 


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